Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Teen Jazz Radio for 2014! I’m Shannon Kennedy, your host and I’d like to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to our show and to the fantastic young artists we feature as part of each podcast.
Today on the show I’m going to discuss a few things you can do during your summer vacation to continue to improve on your instrument or as a performer in general. Of course, you can do these things all year long, but a lot of you will have more time off this summer to really sit down and spend more time practicing and improving.
In this episode, I’m also going to feature the music of Checkmate in Two Flats, Yvonnick Prene, Nivo Deux, Christian Hernandez, John Gregorius and Steve Cole.
I know many of you are listening to this podcast for different reasons – some of you may be here for the advice offered as part of this episode and some of you may be listening to check out the music we feature as part of the show. So, as I mentioned in the last episode, I’m going to try and space the music and the advice out evenly throughout the podcast so that there’s a little something for everyone.
Summer is just around the corner and for many of you, it may have even started. If you haven’t already made plans, make sure working on your instrument or participating in musical activities are a part of them!
For music fans, the summer is festival season so definitely head out and support your favorite artists or be adventurous and check out some new acts!
The first track I’d like to feature is from a Greek group called Checkmate in Two Flats. The track, which I will not attempt to pronounce translates in English to “At the Edge of the Moon.” Following “At the Edge of the Moon” is a Sting tune covered by French harmonica player Yvonnick Prené entitled “Shape of My Heart.”
Once again, the last track was “Shape of My Heart” from Yvonnick Prene. You can find more information on him in our interview with him on Teen Jazz or at his site yvonnickprene.com. The first track was from Checkmate in Two Flats at matse2ifesis.com.
For musicians, I have a few suggestions of things you can focus on this summer to improve your playing and I’d like to start with the most obvious.
This goes without saying! More free time means more time to practice. If you aren’t putting more time in on your craft during the summer than you would normally during the school year, you’re wasting a lot of great practice time and limiting your potential.
Of course, I’m not saying that you have to dedicate all of your free time to practice. I’m just saying you should dedicate more of it. I know that for most of you, summer is your time off, so you might want to take a break from practice, but I would highly advise you not to take too much time off.
Summer gives you a chance to get ahead, work on things you didn’t have time to during school and now is the best time you’ll have to do it. As a student you actually have summer vacations and that extra time to practice, once you get into college or older, that time goes away. Some college students take summer courses and after college, if you have a job, there is no such thing as summer vacation. Take advantage of the free time you have while you have.
Don’t wait, don’t say you’ll do it later, don’t believe the myth that you have plenty of time. You have plenty of time NOW so work on it now, not later.
Just practice a little bit everyday, it will go a long way.
Figure out what you need to practice (a certain technique, style, set of music, etc) and make a plan to work on it. If you need a bit of direction, you can work with a teacher to help you decide what you need to work on and what you can practice. Which leads me to my next suggestion.
If you don’t usually have time to take lessons because of school or work, try to schedule a bit of time during the summer to study with a teacher whether it’s online or in person.
No matter what stage you’re at with your playing, a teacher can provide you with great input. An outside opinion is a great asset because they may notice things about your playing that you haven’t, have ideas for you when you feel stuck, or just give you material to work on that you haven’t thought of on your own.
It’s true that there are a number of materials for free online that provide you with advice on how to play your instrument, but personal feedback from an instructor can really make a difference.
For me, personally, teachers have been a great help. There are points where you practice and work on things, and even though you know you have a lot to improve upon, you might not know exactly what you need to do to get there. What you need to do to take your playing to the next level. You’ve worked through etude books and transcriptions, but you need something more so you find yourself thinking “now what?” A good teacher can answer that question for you.
At the same time, however, if you can’t afford private lessons (which can be expensive, especially with a good/experienced teacher, although they don’t always have to be), there are plenty of ways to improve your playing over the summer without a teacher.
We’ve talked about the importance of listening on Teen Jazz before, but I’d like to emphasize it again and encourage you to make it a more active part of your summer schedule. Listen specifically to the style of music you want to perform. Immerse yourself in the genre. Listen to what the performers are doing. Really listen. Watch videos of them performing live on Youtube. What are they doing on stage? How are they moving? Are they interacting with the audience? How to they behave with the other musicians on stage?
Listening is so important, and I’m definitely not the only one who things so. Saxophonist Bob Reynolds actually just started a series on listening to recordings and how to make the most out of over at Video Sax Lessons.
But listening isn’t just about hearing the music, learning and transcribing melodies or solos. There’s so much more to it than that.
When you really listen to a recording, you can learn so much about the music and the artists. If you play close attention, you learn the idiosyncrasies that are unique to each performer, you can hear hints of the other musicians who have influenced their playing or their style of composition, the genres that may have inspired them, and the more you listen and absorb from diverse sources, the more you begin to develop those things for yourself. You begin to create your own unique voice and style and that’s the most important thing to bring to the table as an artist.
You also need to realize that if you plan on pursuing a career as an artist or performer, the musicians you’re listening to will one day be your competition, so it’s best to start thinking about them that way from the start. Successful businesses (which is what your music will be) pay attention to what their competition is doing, so you should do the same if you hope your business will be successful. They watch closely to see what works and doesn’t work for others and then use that to make their products (your albums) and services (your performances) better.
Of course, returning to listening for musical improvement and not just “research”… Listening is an incredible way to build your music vocabulary and in my personal experience, transcribing from recordings (not reading book transcriptions) has been my most successful form of practice. It’s how I really begin to understand and internalize different concepts. Reading transcriptions or writing out transcriptions can also be beneficial, however, because it gives you the opportunity to analyze what other players are doing. What notes are they playing over which chords? Are there certain lines or patterns they’re using and how are they employing them?
Needless to say, part of listening is to start transcribing if you haven’t already. Whether it’s just playing along or writing things down as we just mentioned, the important thing is to make an effort to do it. Use you ear and build up your vocabulary. Do whatever works best for you.
Another aspect of listening I’d like to touch on is one step beyond hanging out in your bedroom and listening to records or watching YouTube videos, but I’ll get to it after our next set of music.
The first track I’m going to play for you is from guitarist John Gregorius’ album Heaven & Earth entitled “Follow Me” which will be followed by “Slinky” from Saxophonist Steve Cole’s latest album “Pulse.”
So once again, that last track was “Slinky” from Steve Cole. You can read more about Steve Cole in our interview with him on Teen Jazz or at his site stevecole.net. The first track from that set was “Follow Me” from John Gregorius who can be found at johngregorius.com.
Go out and see live music. There are a ton of music events that take place during the summer. Some cities hold free or inexpensive concerts in the parks, many music festivals occur during summer vacation and music venues are easier to get to because you don’t have to wake up for school in the morning!
Live music is great because it has a different energy than recorded music. Interaction with a live audience creates an entirely unique listening experience and the great thing is that even if you see the same performer, no two performances will be the same – especially in jazz where much of the music is improvised.
Watch the performers on stage, how they interact with one another and the audience. How they present themselves. What they play. It’s definitely different than listening at home; you don’t have your instrument on hand to try to figure out what they’re doing, so you might not retain a lot of the specifics, but it’s about the experience over all. Take home what you can.
Record yourself and scrutinize your playing.
You can be your own teacher.
Is your articulation messy when you speed things up? Is there are certain passage where your fingers don’t move quite as fluently as you’d like? As a vocalist, is there a bridge between your head voice and chest voice that you’d like to smooth out?
When you record yourself and listen to your playing, you’ll notice things you don’t like (and even things that you do) that you weren’t aware of in the moment. Recording yourself can be a great way to pick out aspects of your playing that you’d like to improve without the help of a teacher and give you some direction for your practice.
Most phones come equipped with the ability to record, but you can also use your computer or purchase an inexpensive device like the Roland Edirol (which is what I use because I can record concerts as well as practice sessions).
Read about the music business, your instrument, biographies of various performers, or about various music skills such as music production. Libraries often have a section with music books and biographies, but you can find a wealth of information for free online. Check out various music blogs (not review sites, sites that interview musicians and offer advice). A few blogs we suggest are: Ari’s Take, Cyper PR with Ariel Hyatt, CDBaby’s DIY Musician Blog, Music Think Tank, Wayward Musician, Independent Music Advice, and more.
Attend a music camp.
There are summer music camps all over the world and they are a great way to meet other musicians your age, work with skilled professionals, get feedback on your playing, try something new and even get the chance to perform (most camps end with a performance). We have a roundup of summer jazz camps around the world over at Teen Jazz and we’ll provide a link to the post with the transcription of this article over at Teen Jazz.
Go to jam sessions.
I know I mention something about jam sessions in almost every post, podcast and article, so I’ll keep it short, but that’s because I think they’re incredibly important. Whether or not you host them at home or go to one being hosted elsewhere, jam sessions are great opportunities to try out the things you’ve been practicing on your own in a real world environment.
Take a free online music course.
I’m not sure when, exactly, these courses are offered, but I’m sure some of them have summer sessions. I’m just going to throw a few suggestions out there and I’ll leave it to you to check out the ones that interest you and hopefully you’ll find something that works with your schedule. The following are all available on Coursera, but there are other online institutions that offer both free and paid music courses.
- The History of Rock, Part I or Part II with John Covach, University of Rochester
- Developing Your Musicianship with George W Russell, Berklee College of Music
- Jazz Improvisation with Gary Burton, Berklee College of Music
- Songwriting with Pat Pattinson, Berklee College of Music
- Introduction to Music Production with Loudon Stearns, Berklee College of Music
Take a music class at a community college.
For high school students or even college students, taking a summer music course at a community college can be a great option. If you are in high school, you’ll need to do a few things to take college courses early (but it’s not impossible). Plus, if you plan on studying music in college, the credits from your summer course are usually transferable and can count towards your degree.
Grab a mirror.
Preferably a large one. Have you ever thought about the way that you look when you’re performing? Does it look like you’re bored? Scared? Energetic? Play in front of a mirror and see what you look like while you’re playing (you can also, and should also video tape your performances). Music is an art that is performed in front of an audience, arguably for the audience’s entertainment (there are some who might say otherwise). What you’re doing and how you look on stage matter, regardless of what anyone might tell you. If you look like you’re miserable on stage, the audience will respond to that and will interpret your performance through that lens. If you look like you’re having fun, then chances are, the audience will have more fun too.
So there you have it, a list of ways to improve this summer. If you have plans to continue working on music this summer or if you have any practice suggestions, I’d love to hear what they are. You can leave a comment on this week’s emission over at TeenJazz.com. I look forward to hearing from you!
Our last set of music for today’s episode includes “Right Now!” from guitarist Christian Hernandez Five and “Star Chaser” from Nivo Deux. More information about the groups can be found at christianhernandezmusic.com and nivodeux.com.
Before I close out the show, I’d like to invite you all to check out Teen Jazz if you’re interested in learning more about me, Shannon Kennedy or the community. As I just mentioned it’s TeenJazz.com.
Or if you just would like to say hello, come and say hi at our Facebook page – that’s facebook.com/teenjazz. I promise to say hello back!
All the links that I’ve mentioned as part of the show will be up on Teen Jazz Radio, so if you’re interested in learning more about these talented artists, please stop on by – I know they’ll appreciate the love! You can leave comments on any of our posts at TeenJazzRadio.com.
A very special thanks to Jazz and Bossa Radio for featuring Teen Jazz Radio on their web radio station. We recently partnered with them at the beginning of this month to share our artists with a wider audience and we are excited to have joined the Jazz and Bossa Radio family. You can visit them at jazzandbossaradio.com. All of our Teen Jazz Radio podcasts are featured over at Jazz and Bossa Radio on Sundays at 3pm EST and on Wednesdays at 5pm EST.
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In this week’s episode, you heard the music of:
- Checkmate in Two Flats – At the Edge of the Moon
- Yvonnick Prene – Shape of My Heart from Wonderful World
- John Gregorius – Follow Me from Heaven & Earth
- Steve Cole – Slinky from Pulse
- The Christian Hernandez Quintet – Right Now! from 5 For 5
- Nivo Deux – Star Chaser from Open Beta – EP